SPONSORED CONTENT: Julie Ennis, CEO for Corporate Services UK & Ireland at Sodexo, explains how the Covid-19 crisis and the socioeconomic fallout of the past 18 months have had extensive and ongoing impacts on women – both at work and at home, as the two worlds converge.
How do you reflect on the experience of women in the workplace during the Covid-19 crisis?
First, we have to accept that women – and particularly women of colour – have been more likely to have been furloughed and to have been laid off. So, as we build back better, it is up to us to be more emphatic about confronting the challenges that women are facing, so that we genuinely provide equality of opportunity.
The biggest challenge now is going to be how we ensure all our people are able to balance home and work life. And this isn’t just about women; certainly, women did end up doing more of their share of things such as home-schooling during the pandemic, but I think men also welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with their children.
And, moving forward, many people – not just parents – will want to work in a more agile fashion. So, the question becomes, how do we support all our employees in a hybrid world, when people start to return to the workplace?
How do we address those issues of balance and equality for a post-pandemic workforce?
There are practical steps you can take, but there are also some key enablers to think about. For example, at Sodexo, we are looking at all our policies and procedures to ensure that people have flexibility within their roles, and that they have the option of the hybrid working environment.
Then there is also the technology that we need to put in place to make it possible to work remotely. And we’re also thinking about education around inclusive leadership; we want to be sure that staff who work remotely are still listened to, and that they have access to the same opportunities as those based in the workplace.
What about those gender-equity issues that existed before we had ever heard about Covid-19? How do we confront those problems as staff return to the workplace?
One big focus for me has to be working with women who may not be, for whatever reason, as confident as their male counterparts. So many of the women I speak to talk about imposter syndrome – but there is support we can give to help. At Sodexo, our female-sponsorship programme is really valuable for this reason.
We also have a global gender-balance board. Again, it recognises the importance of both men and women championing these issues and spending time thinking about both the strategic elements of ensuring gender balance across the organisation and the practical realities of execution.
What about the future of work?
There are issues that are going to affect all our people, but potentially women more so, or more often. Automation, in particular, is an issue for women in our sector, because we do tend to have more women in roles such as cleaning and food service, which will be automated over time.
So how do we address that? How do we change our training and development programmes, so that people have an opportunity to pursue different roles?
One aspect of Sodexo’s global gender-balance network is a focus on trying to get more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles.
To mark International Women in Engineering day our hard FM ambassador, Joanna Harris shared why she’s a passionate advocate of a career in engineering, and of apprenticeships as a route into the FM industry.
When we look at our data, a lot of the people that are in those roles are men and we are keen to share career stories like Joanna’s to help raise awareness and encourage more women to consider STEM roles and the FM industry as a career choice.
How do employers really drive these issues and ensure accountability?
I'm not instinctively a huge fan of targets, because I always fear that takes you into a tick-box mentality. But I absolutely acknowledge that, to make progress, we need to score well on certain metrics; we have had targets in place in Sodexo for the last number of years and there has been real progress.
For example, we have said that 100% of our frontline employees must work for gender-balanced teams. We have also said 40% of senior leaders should be female, although we are not quite there yet. The key is to ensure we are accountable.
While I accept it is critical that we measure progress, the real advances come from the policies you put in place at the beginning to drive the right behaviours and from leaders, who must be consistent in role modelling these.
Sodexo has a long-standing commitment to fairness and equity and is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.
Earlier this year Sodexo published its latest Social Impact Pledge within this its People pathway sets out commitments in areas to help employees be the best they can be by taking account of their work and personal lives and supporting them to fulfil their personal career ambitions.
Find out more about Sodexo Social Impact Pledge here.
A note on language: Throughout this article we use the term women, we take this to include all people who self-identify as women and engage with their current or prospective employers as such; when we use the term gender equality, we take this to mean equality for all genders and those who do not identify as a gender, i.e. non-gender-conforming.